In the last of our series of guest posts on the impact of the Occupy! movement on radical politics, Kieran Allen, author of Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism, argues for the relevance of Karl Marx’s ideas about collective emancipation and economic democracy:
The global occupy movement has inspired millions across the world. It has bridged continents with its catch-cry about the 99 percent who are excluded from economic decision making.
The roots of the movement lay in the magnificent revolt in Egypt which toppled the dictator Mubarak. Despite a decade of officially inspired Islamophobia – which was originally associated with Bush’s war on terrorism – many people learnt from that revolt. The tactics of occupying central city squares soon spread to Spain, Greece and America and a global movement was born.
Its first achievement was to open a space whereby it becomes possible to think of alternatives to capitalism. In the recent past, an often demoralised and defeated left believed that it was easier to envisage the end of the planet than to imagine an end to capitalism. But there is now new energy and confidence among anti-capitalists. A return to the writings of Marx will help this movement further.
Marx did not think about alternatives to capitalism in terms of a ‘utopia’. The term utopia was invented by the British writer Thomas Moore as a literary device to critique his own society. It was an imaginary island, a nowhere onto which Moore projected his own fantasies in order to hold a mirror to his own. But he never envisaged that it could be achieved.
Marx, by contrast, thought about alternatives in terms of real movements that arose within our society and posed a practical way of taking the productive powers forward. Contrary to later Stalinist distortions, this did not mean building gigantic steel mills in order to endlessly increase output. For Marx, the improvement in the productive capacity was linked to the goal of expanding human sensitivity and freedom.
Capitalism is a system which – despite its own ideology – renders humans more dependent on each other than any previous formation. Procuring the most basic necessities requires participation in a global division of labour. Yet this elaborate human organisation is mystified by talk of ‘The Markets’ and controlled by the tiny 1% minority.
Real change can only mean resolving this contradiction. A first requirement is for this tiny minority to be issued with redundancy notices. The CEOs of large corporations think of their workers as disposable hankies – to be used when necessary and to be discarded as quickly as possible. We need to turn the tables and do away with unelected Boards of Directors whose sole purpose is the collection of dividends and profits. We need public ownership of the large corporations and their re-organisation into an integrative and co-operative economic system.
This should be linked to workers self-management. Capitalism has produced an extraordinary and unsustainable division between mental and manual labour. A small managerial elite are paid to think, measure and intensify pressure on a majority. The work process of white collar employees increasingly resembles those of manual workers in terms of control exerted of them from above. An alternative to capitalism must therefore be based on the active decision making of those who work.
But that can only be the first step. We live in a world where ‘Market Forces’ have assumed the mystical power of deities. So sacred are they, that few media commentators even name the profane capitalists who constitute these ‘forces’. It is literally an alienated world where our human capacities have been turned against us.
Marx envisaged a form of democratic planning where we, the people, decided on economic priorities. Instead of a Market dictating investment decisions through the chaos of outcomes determined by individual economic agents, we need to collectively discuss what needs to be produced beforehand.
Such a vision is sneered at by those who run the economics departments of most universities. Economic decision making is far too complicated to be left to the dull masses. Better to leave it in the hands of bankers, hedge funds, and CEOs who are real experts.
To that we can only reply: Another fine mess they have made – we could hardly do worse.
A Critical Introduction
Ideal student introduction to Weber’s sociology that offers critical analysis in the context of Weber’s political beliefs.